Maudgalyayana Buddhism


Maudgalyayana, also popularly known as Mahamaudgalyana, was one of Gautama Buddha's closest disciples. He is considered the second of the Buddha's two main male disciples, the first being Sariputra.

As mentioned in the Pali Canon and other Buddhist scriptures, Maudgalyayana was known for his filial piety, and also for transferring his merits to his mother, with the aim of her having a good rebirth.

Maudgalyayana and Śāriputra have a deep spiritual friendship. They are depicted in Buddhist art as the two disciples accompanying the Buddha and have complementary roles as teachers.

As a teacher, Maudgalyayana is known for his psychic abilities, and is often depicted using them in his teaching methods. In many early Buddhist canons, Maudgalyāyana is instrumental in re-uniting the monastic community after the Devadatta caused a schism.

In addition, Maudgalyāyana is linked to accounts of the creation of the first Buddha image. Maudgalyāyana dies at the age of 84, murdered by a rival sect. This violent death is described in Buddhist scriptures as a result of Maudgalyāyana's Karma of having killed his own parents in a previous life.

Through post-canonical texts, Maudgalyāyana became known for his filial piety through a popular record that he transferred his merits to his mother (who was tormented in the realm of the pretas), so that her soul could have a quick and good rebirth.

This led to a tradition in many Buddhist countries known as the ghost festival, during which people dedicate their merits to their ancestors.

Maudgalyāyana has also traditionally been associated with meditation and sometimes in Abhidharma texts, as well as the Dharmaguptaka school. In the 19th century, relics of Sariputta and Moggallana were found attributed to him, widely revered.


Encounter with the Buddha

According to Buddhist texts, Maudgalyāyana is born into a Brahmin family in the village of Kolita (also known as Kulika, formerly thought to be present-day Kul in Silao but now identified as Juafardih 56 near Nalanda), and in reference to the village is so named.

His mother is a brahmin named Mogallāni, and his father is the village chief of the kshatriya (warrior) caste. Kolita is born on the same day as Upatiṣya (Pali: Upatissa ; later to be known as Śāriputra), and the two have been friends since childhood.

Kolita and Upatiṣya develop an interest in spiritual life when they are young. One day, while they are watching a festival, a sense of disenchantment and spiritual urgency overcomes them: they wish to leave worldly life behind and begin their spiritual life with the mendicant wanderer Sañjaya Vairatiputra ( Pali : Sañjaya Belatthiputta ).

In the Theravāda and Mahāsāṃghika canons, Sañjaya is described as a teacher in the Indian skeptical tradition, as he does not believe in knowledge or logic, nor does he answer speculative questions.

Since he cannot satisfy the spiritual needs of Kolita and Upatiṣya, they leave. However in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Canon, the Chinese Buddhist Canon, and in Tibetan accounts, he is depicted as a teacher with admirable qualities such as meditative vision and religious zeal.

However, he becomes ill and dies, which causes the two disciples to look further. In some accounts, he even goes so far to predict the coming of the Buddha through his visions.

Independently, Kolita and Upatiṣya leave and continue their spiritual quest, splitting off in separate directions. They make an agreement that the first to find the "ambrosia" of spiritual life will tell the other.

What follows is the story that leads Kolita and Upatiṣya to take refuge under the Buddha, which is considered an ancient element of the textual tradition. Upatiṣya meets a Buddhist monk named Aśvajit ( Pali : Assaji ), one of the Buddha's first five disciples, who walks to receive alms from devotees. In the Mūlasarvāstivāda version, the Buddha sent him there to teach Upatiṣya. 

Aśvajit's serene demeanor inspires Upatiṣya to approach him and learn more. Aśvajit tells him that he is still newly ordained and can only teach a little. He then expresses the essence of the Buddha's teaching in these words:

"Of all phenomena arising from one cause.
The Master has said the cause;
And He has also said how each will come to its end,
For such is the word of the Sage.
- Translated by TW Rhys Davids 

These words help Upatiṣya to attain the first stage of the Buddhist spiritual path. After this, Upatiṣya tells Kolita about his discovery and Kolita also attains the first stage.

The two disciples, together with the five hundred students of Sañjaya, go to be ordained as monks under the Buddha at Veṇuvana ( Pali : Veḷuvana ).

From the time of their ordination, Upatiṣya and Kolita are known as Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, respectively, Maudgalyāyana being the clan name of Kolita .  After having ordained, all except Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana attain arhat ( Pali :arahant ; last stage of enlightenment ).

Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra attain enlightenment a week or two later, Maudgalyāyana in Magadha , in a village called Kallavala. At that time, drowsiness prevents him from proceeding further on the path. After having a vision of the Buddha advising him how to overcome it, he achieves a breakthrough and attains enlightenment.

In some accounts, he is said to meditate on the elements of the process. In the commentary of the Pali Dhammapada, it is asked why the two disciples attain enlightenment more slowly than the other former students of Sañjaya.

The answer given is that Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana are like kings, who need more time to prepare for a journey than commoners. In other words, their attainment is of greater depth than that of the other students and therefore requires more time. 

Aśvajit's brief statement, known as the stanza Ye Dharma Hetu ("Of all phenomena"), has traditionally been described as the essence of Buddhist teaching, and is the most inscribed verse in the entire Buddhist world.

It can be found in all Buddhist schools, is engraved on many materials, can be found on many Buddha statues and stūpas (relic structures), and is used in their consecration rituals.

According to Indologist Oldenberg and translator Thanissaro Bhikkhu , the verses were recommended in one of Emperor Asoka's edicts as a subject for study and reflection.

Scholars do not fully understand the role of the verse. Apart from the complex nature of the statement, it has also been noted that it has not been attributed to the Buddha anywhere in this form, indicating that it was a summary or paraphrase of the Aśvajit itself.

The Indologist TW Rhys Davids believed that the short poem may have made a special impression on Maudgalyāyana and Sariputta, due to the emphasis on causality typical of Buddhism.

Philosopher Paul Carus explained that the stanza was a bold and iconoclastic response to Brahmanicaltraditions, as it "repudiates the miracles of supernatural interference by unreservedly recognizing the law of cause and effect as irrefutable,"  while Japanese Zen master Suzuki recalled the experience that is beyond intellect ", in which one idea follows another in sequence finally to end in conclusion or judgment." 

Although in the Pali tradition, Maudgalyāyana is described as an arhat that will no longer be reborn, in Mahayāna traditions this is sometimes interpreted differently. In Chapter 6 of the Lotus Sutra (Granting of Prophecy), the Buddha is said to predict that the disciples Mahākasyapa , Subhuti , Mahakatyayana and Maudgalyāyana will become Buddhas in the future. 

Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana.

Śāriputra y Maudgalyāyana, junto con los quinientos estudiantes de Sañjaya, fueron a ordenarse como monjes bajo las órdenes del Buda en Veṇuvana ( Pali : Veḷuvana ).

El día de la ordenación de Maudgalyāyana, el Buda les permite a él y a Śāriputra tomar los asientos de los principales discípulos varones . Según el texto de Pali Buddhavaṃsa , cada Buda ha tenido ese par de discípulos principales.

Como acaban de ordenar, algunos otros monjes se sienten ofendidos de que el Buda les conceda tal honor. El Buda responde señalando que la antigüedad en el monacato no es el único criterio en tal nombramiento, y explica su decisión con más detalle al relatar una historia del pasado.

Dice que ambos discípulos aspirabanhace muchas vidas para convertirse en discípulos principales bajo su mando. Hicieron tal resolución desde la era del Buda anterior Aṇomadassī , cuando Maudgalyāyana era un laico llamado Sirivadha.

Sirivaddha se sintió inspirado a convertirse en discípulo principal de un futuro Buda después de que su amigo, Śāriputra en una vida anterior, le recomendara que lo hiciera.

Luego invitó al Buda Aṇomadassī y a la comunidad monástica (Saṃgha) a comer en su casa durante siete días, durante los cuales tomó la resolución de convertirse en discípulo principal por primera vez. Posteriormente, él y Śāriputra continuaron haciendo buenas obras durante muchas vidas, hasta la época del Buda Sakyamuni .

Después de que el Buda nombra a Maudgalyāyana como discípulo principal, se le conoce como "Mahā-Maudgalyāyana", que significa mahā "grande". Este epíteto se le da como un honor, y para distinguirlo de otros del mismo nombre. 

Post-canonical texts describe Maudgalyāyana as the second principal male disciple, next to Śāriputra.

Early canons agree that Śāriputra is spiritually superior to Maudgalyāyana, and their specializations are described as psychic powers ( Sanskrit : ṛddhi , Pali : iddhi ) for Maudgalyāyana and wisdom for Śāriputra.

In Buddhist art in literature , buddhas are commonly depicted with two chief disciples (Japanese : niky ōji , classical Tibetan : mchog zung) at their side - in the case of Sakyamuni Buddha, the two disciples depicted are often Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra.

Although there are different perspectives among the various Buddhist canons as to the merits of each disciple, in all Buddhist canons, Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra are recognized as the two main disciples of the Buddha.

This fact is also confirmed by the iconography discovered in archaeological finds, in which the two disciples tend to be depicted assisting their master. In addition, Maudgalyāyana is often included in traditional lists of "four great disciples" ( pinyin : sida shengwen ) and eight arhats .

Despite these widespread patterns in both scripture and archaeological research, it has been noted that in later iconography, Ānanda and Mahākasyapa are represented much more, and Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra are represented much less. 

The lives of Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra are closely connected. Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra are born on the same day and die in the same period. Their families are long-time friends. In their student years, Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra are co-pupils of the same teacher.

After helping each other to find the essence of spiritual life, their friendship remains. In many sutras they show great appreciation and kindness to each other.

For example, when Śāriputra becomes ill, it is described that Maudgalyāyana used his psychic powers to obtain medicine for Śāriputra. Śāriputra is considered the Buddha's wisest disciple, but Maudgalyāyana follows him in wisdom. The only thing that gives them a strong bond as spiritual friends is their love for the Buddha, which they both frequently express. 

Back to blog